CINCINNATI – At this time last year, the Cubs were rolling out a Triple-A product, giving the ball to journeymen like Chris Volstad, Justin Germano and Jason Berken near the end of a 101-loss season.
The Cubs are still years away from flexing their muscles and being a real big-market team again. But if you changed the channel from “Monday Night Football” and used your imagination, you could see some of the pieces coming together, 1,000 miles apart.
While Travis Wood again looked like a 2014 Opening Day starter, beating the Cincinnati Reds 2-0 at Great American Ball Park, the Daytona Cubs captured the Florida State League championship with their lights-out pitching.
[RELATED: Sveum on Wood's recent stretch]
The Daytona crew had put together 43 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run in the playoffs before C.J. Edwards and Ryan Searle closed it out with a combined one-hitter in a 4-0 win over Charlotte, the advanced Class-A affiliate for the Tampa Bay Rays.
“It’s nice for the organization and the kids that are going to be here some time to win championships and be part of something like that,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “To be in big games, there’s nothing like it. No matter what level it’s at, it’s always an experience and an adrenaline rush you can’t replace.”
Edwards – the centerpiece of this summer’s Matt Garza trade with the Texas Rangers – allowed only one hit across 10 scoreless postseason innings. Look at the Daytona rotation and you can see how the puzzle might fit together.
Corey Black could be more than the answer to a trivia question: Who was the guy who was traded for Alfonso Soriano? Pierce Johnson, the 43rd overall pick in the 2012 draft, became the compensation for letting Aramis Ramirez walk as a free agent. Ivan Pineyro came over from the Washington Nationals in the Scott Hairston trade.
“I’m looking forward to (the pitching) a lot more than I was a year ago at this time,” Sveum said. “Not to be too brash about it, but the trades we’ve made and the guys we’ve got (in) the draft the last few years (have all been) pitching well.
“You’re excited about all that stuff that’s going on with some of our pitchers now that really wasn’t happening a year ago.”
The Cubs are still 61-82 and stuck in last place in a division that should be stacked for years to come. The Reds (82-63) had just won six of seven games against the St. Louis Cardinals and Los Angeles Dodgers and are still running third in the National League Central.
But even with Jeff Samardzija closing in on a 200 innings/200 strikeouts season, Sveum says this about Wood, the key piece in the Sean Marshall trade: “He’s our No. 1 starter.”
Wood (9-11, 3.05) has been remarkably consistent, notching 22 quality starts in his 29 outings. This time he beat his old team by going seven innings and getting home runs from Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena. In what will be Wood’s first full season in the big leagues, the lefty has been an All-Star and should hit 200 innings.
“Every pitcher tries to pitch like that, even if they don’t technically have that ‘ace stuff,’” Wood said. “I appreciate it, but we just got to keep rolling.”
No one knows if any of these prospects will pan out – and that includes Daytona’s power hitters Kris Bryant and Dan Vogelbach – but the Cubs can dream about their potential aces.
“It matters a lot to have winning teams down there in the minor leagues,” Sveum said. “There just tends to be an attitude to where guys expect to win and they’ve been a part of winning and they don’t like the taste of losing.”